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Council approves historic $782 million Doors Open levy for access to science, heritage, and the arts in King County

December 5, 2023

The King County Council on Tuesday approved a new levy that will provide nearly $800 million in projected funding for access to science, heritage and the arts in King County over the next seven years.

The Doors Open science, heritage and arts levy will fund equitable access, support programming in public schools, and increase tourism and revenue, and feed the workforce pipeline to the arts and culture sector through a 0.1% sales tax.

“I’m absolutely elated with the passage of the Doors Open program that has been years in the making, beginning during my time in the state Senate, and now with final action taken by our King County Council,” said Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the measure’s prime sponsor. “The Council’s overwhelming support speaks to the legislation’s countywide benefits and resounding focus on equity. It will live up to its name by ensuring that new start-up organizations will receive opportunities for essential funding to open their doors, and that more than 500 arts, science, and heritage organizations will have the resources they need to keep their doors open.

“Beyond that, these organizations can now expand their partnerships and programs in underserved communities where they will reach youth, seniors, homeless populations, victims of trauma, memory care patients, public school students, and so many more, while opening new doors for our youth to inspire them for their future. I am very grateful to my colleagues on the Council, especially Councilmember Balducci, Executive Constantine, 4Culture, the Legislature, and Inspire Washington for working to bring Doors Open to the finish line.”

Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Sarah Perry, the Doors Open program is part of a decade-plus long effort to provide stability and growth for the cultural sector, and it arrives at a critical moment following the dramatic economic impacts the pandemic had on the arts and culture community.

Through an average annual cost of $40 per family, the levy will help the arts and culture community not only rebound from pandemic cuts and closures – particularly in marginalized or otherwise disadvantaged communities – but flourish to new levels with more funding than has ever been spent through public programs in King County.

By comparison, 4Culture, the designated funding agency for Doors Open, had expenditures of roughly $16 million in 2021. The measure builds on similar successful initiatives adopted locally in Tacoma and nationally in Denver, CO.

“Our arts, heritage, and science organizations create improved learning outcomes, provide access to good jobs, and help us develop a stronger economy and healthier communities,” Balducci said. “Doors Open will give people in every corner of King County more opportunities to explore and experience the arts and culture that enriches all of our lives."

A full 15% of Doors Open expenditures will go to public school students, where art and music programs are being cut to balance budgets. Annually, that’s at least $12 million to support partnerships, field trips, before- and after-school programs, transportation and admission costs, internships, free or discounted ticket programs and more.

“Doors Open is the culmination of more than a decade of work, and will revitalize the cultural fabric of King County for decades to come,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “This investment will support small and large organizations alike, all across the county, and enable a sustainable future for the cultural organizations that make King County so special. I want to thank the King County Council for their consideration and approval of this legislation, and to recognize the work of so many leaders in the arts and culture community for their tireless work over the years to reach this milestone.”

Funding through the program will be dedicated to geographic equity, supporting the communities most hurt and isolated by the pandemic and its ongoing impacts, while also seeding new funding to grow additional cultural centers across King County.

Businesses rely on arts and culture organizations to drive tourism and revenue. The arts and culture sector accounts for 10.8% of the state’s gross domestic product, roughly $72.8 billion. Doors Open spending will provide a direct return on investment for the local economy.

What others are saying:

This bill's focus on geographic equity is so essential to organizations like ours. Here in Auburn, our community impact is every bit as important and worthy of support as larger budget organizations in metropolitan areas. The passage of this legislation validates the role we play and the impact we have. We're grateful and hopeful for the future.” Rachel Perry – Executive Director, Auburn Symphony

We are celebrating the passage of Doors Open.  A minimum of 15% of these funds will be spent on public school students through programs like ours that connect directly with teachers and classrooms.  We reach more than 2,500 students in under-resourced communities each year and will eagerly expand that reach with this additional funding.”   Shawn Roberts, Co-Executive Director of Education & Advocacy, ArtsCorp

“More than 500 science, heritage, and arts organizations throughout King County will receive programmatic support from this historic legislation.  These groups do so much more than put on nice-to-have plays and museum exhibits.  They support unionized jobs and bolster a whole ecosystem of small business including transit, restaurants, and tourism. The passage of Doors Open is an absolute game-changer for our county.” Representative Julia Reed, 36th Legislative District

“The unanimous passage of Doors Open could not have come at a more important time.  Transformative funding for science, heritage, and the arts has been needed for a decade.  These organizations, all over King County, create healthier, more diverse communities, and support everything from mental health to improved graduation rates and higher civic engagement.  With this vote, our county leaders have issued a mandate to connect every citizen in our county with life-changing science, arts, and heritage programs. We are shouting our gratitude from the rooftops today.” Manny Cawaling, Executive Director, Inspire Washington

"We have a responsibility to steward important heritage assets that tell the unique story of the impact of the railway on King County and the Snoqualmie Valley: the railway quite literally changed everything.Doors Open will now allow us to grow our existing outreach and education efforts and invest in new initiatives to reach and inspire more people.” Richard R. Anderson, Executive Director, Northwest Railway Museum